What to Do When There’s No Toilet Paper in a Public Restroom

What to Do When There’s No Toilet Paper in a Public Restroom
Photo: Teera Pittayanurak, Shutterstock

Bodily functions are messy, and no matter how carefully you plan, your body will betray you at some point, forcing you to eliminate in public places you’d rather not eliminate in. In such a desperate situation, we may experience tunnel vision, not realising the horror of an empty toilet paper dispenser until it is too late. Instead of descending into self-loathing, have an action plan. Here’s what to do when there’s no toilet paper in your bathroom stall.

Ask for help

If you’re alone in the restroom, the obvious first step is to check other stalls for supplies. If you’re not alone, call on the comity and love of your fellow humans. If there’s someone else in the restroom, swallow your pride and make a polite request for assistance. You might feel embarrassed, but we all have to move our bowels at some point, and it’s significantly better than the next few options we’re going to explore.

Use the other paper

If there’s no one to get help from and no toilet paper available at all, your next step is to contemplate non-standard paper products:

  • Toilet seat covers. These are your best option if they’re available. They’re sanitary and flushable, so they’re really just oddly-shaped toilet paper anyway.
  • Paper towels. If you can grab some paper towels from the sink area, you’ll have a scratchy but effective substitute. You can minimise the roughness by getting them a little damp before using.
  • Cardboard roll. The bare cardboard toilet paper roll might be mocking you from the dispenser, but you can use it for an extremely unpleasant wiping experience. Like paper towels, you can make it marginally more comfortable with some strategic dampening. (Note the word marginally in that sentence.)

Check your pockets

Let’s say you’ve wandered into some sort of Mad Max restroom where there are no paper products at all — a wasteland of bacteria and shame. It’s time, then, to search for a hidden reservoir of paper on your person. Check your pockets and your wallet for anything — anything! — that could be used, such as:

  • Tissues. This one is pretty obvious, of course. If you have a pack of tissues in a coat pocket, your toilet experience won’t be so traumatic after all.
  • Receipts. If you went to CVS right before you hit the loo, you are now in luck. Paper receipts aren’t ideal, but they can get the job done. Sure, you might not be able to return those ill-advised impulse purchases, but you will have defeated entropy for one more day, and that’s not nothing.
  • Wrappers. Similarly, candy wrappers or other packaging that you’ve got in a bag or in your pocket may also provide a bit of emergency relief here.
  • Cash. OK, hear me out. Yes, that makes this the most expensive public restroom you’ve ever used, but wasting a few 5-dollar notes might be worth it in this instance. If you don’t have any $5 notes, you’re going to have to engage in a very serious conversation with yourself regarding the price of your dignity.

Make a DIY bidet

Australians are weirdly anti-bidet, but even if you think using a stream of water to clean yourself after a poop is a vicious communist plot to weaken Australian resolve, in emergencies anything goes. If you happen to have a bottle of water on you, consider using it to clean up without paper. Water is pretty effective at this — which is why billions of people around the world use it instead of or in combination with toilet paper — so this could be an excellent choice. And the beginning of an exciting new frontier for you to explore.

Sacrifice your wardrobe

Ah, we have arrived at the final circle of hell. You have been in the restroom for half an hour and have determined that no help is coming and no alternative supplies exist. You may suddenly be realising you have pooped in a closet instead of an actual restroom. Whatever the reason, there is literally nothing to use as substitute toilet paper. Except, of course, your own clothing.

Yes, horrifying. But also! Better than the alternative, if only marginally. Your choices (in order of least horrifying to most horrifying) are:

  • Socks. Socks are your best choice once you’ve hit this bottom because they come in pairs. Once you’re done cleaning up, you can carefully insert the dirty sock inside its mate, making it easy and relatively sanitary for the garbage.
  • Underwear. Reasoning that your underpants are going to be ruined anyway if you do nothing, maybe make their sacrifice really count.
  • Undershirt. If you’re wearing an undershirt or layers of shirts, maybe you don’t need all of them.

One final note: Whatever you wind up using in this situation (with the exception of toilet seat covers), do not flush it down the toilet. Even paper products like paper towels or tissues shouldn’t be flushed, because they won’t disintegrate like toilet paper (tissues are designed to withstand explosive sneezes, after all, and persist for a long, clogging time in our sewer systems, for example). If you do have to resort to one of these desperate measures, steel yourself and walk the remnants to the garbage.

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